Science fiction is, in my wholly unqualified opinion, the best of the literary and screen genres. Its imaginative potential is limitless, providing a blank canvas onto which one can project all manner of intriguing moral, philosophical and entertaining scenarios. Most appealing of all, science fiction transcends the dreary confines of realism. Those of us who fed our childhood upon dreams of captaining the Enterprise or exploring alien worlds as intrepid intergalactic colonists will understand the attraction of this fantastical escapism. For many of these technologies, however, we need dream no longer thanks to the wonders of science and technology. Whilst we have not yet cracked hyperspace travel, here are five pieces of tech which in just a few years will no longer be relegated to an Isaac Asimov novel.
Central to the advance of technology is computing power. What spaceship or futuristic cityscape would be complete without a magnificent data processor powering it all? Quantum computing may constitute a step towards a new technological revolution with a processing speed potentially million times better than the best available today. Scientists at Sussex University have recently claimed to have drawn up a blueprint for a modular quantum computer which traps charged atoms, or ions, and then does something with microwaves and logic gates. I don’t it understand it but it sounds pretty cool.
For many of these technologies, we need dream no longer thanks to the wonders of science and technology.
As any engineer from the distant future will no doubt tell you, long-haul space exploration would simply be impossible without a Star Trek-style replicator to provide the crew with all the material resources they need to maintain the spacecraft. Once again, this precise vision remains a fantasy, but 3D printing presents the opportunity for what some are calling ‘decentralised manufacturing’, allowing anyone with the right equipment to print from the comfort of their own home anything from a bionic ear to a chocolate cake. It’s already possible to 3D print functioning cars and prosthetic limbs. It’s only a matter of time before this technology is rolled out on a commercial basis to the mass market.
In the future, perhaps the most visible icon of technological progress will be wearable gadgets. I’m not talking about the abortive Google Glass which raised understandable concerns about the privacy rights which could be violated by a population with face-mounted cameras permanently attached to their faces. Instead, electronic tattoos, nerve replacements and e-skin could be the future. Flexible devices which can be printed onto the skin or implanted internally could allow us to finally break through the evolutionary glass ceiling and become Homo deus. Project Underskin are designing a digital tattoo which not only allows you to control your household electronic devices literally from the palm of your hand but it will graphically display your blood sugar levels and other health metrics. The timely and accurate medical data such technology would provide could lead us one more step along the road to eternal life. Don’t be surprised then if one day the Fountain of Youth is brought to you by Apple.